Leading by Example

IN 1911 — A TIME WHEN WOMEN AND LEADERSHIP WERE STILL RARELY HEARD IN THE SAME SENTENCE — the Loretto Sisters and the Sisters of St. Joseph began their work to advance the cause of women at St. Michael’s. As Deans and as professors, they served as key role models for future generations of women and offered an important voice in shaping the college as a place where women and men could pursue the same academic goals. Here are some of those groundbreaking women.

Deans and Notables: Loretto College

Mother Agatha O’Neill

Mother Agatha
Mother Agatha O’Neill,
1842 – 1927

When Mother Agatha O’Neill entered the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary in 1866, she had already attended the Toronto Normal School and graduated with a first-class certificate. Thus, when the Institute assumed responsibility for a school in Lindsay, Ont., where young women would be prepared to write the examinations of the provincial Department of Education, she was chosen to teach there as one of the nuns professionally qualified. As a result of her experience in Lindsay, she was determined to bring this standard of education to all the Loretto Academies. When she was given the responsibility of overseeing the educational preparation of the members of the Institute, she strongly promoted the higher education of the Sisters in order to obtain the required qualifications and certification for teaching at every level. She is fondly remembered in the community for her stance in this regard.

Mother Agatha was one of the first promoters of University Federation and was actively engaged in the community’s struggle to establish a college for Catholic women at the University of Toronto. She contributed to negotiations with the university and St. Michael’s College, which were finally successful when in 1911 an agreement was concluded between St. Michael’s and the two Catholic women’s schools in Toronto, Loretto Abbey and St. Joseph’s Academy. Female students could finally be enrolled in a Catholic college in the University of Toronto.

See Mother Agatha O’Neill’s profile in the Dictionary of Canadian Biography

Deans at Loretto College

Sr. Estelle Nolan

Dean: 1913-1932

Sr. Margarita O’Connor

Dean: 1913-1932

Mother St. Margaret Kelly

Dean: 1932-1937
1932-1945; 1947-1949

Mother Mary Aloysius Kerr

Dean: 1945-1947

Mother Boniface Hopkins

Dean: 1949-1955

Mother Angela (Marjorie) McKeown

Dean: 1955-1959

Mother Mary Bernadette Culnan

Dean: 1959-1965

Mother St. Philomena Cassin

Dean: 1965-1967

Sr. Maria Lanthier

Dean: 1967-1971

Sr. Caroline Dawson

Dean: 1971-1975

Sr. Diane Bridges

Dean: 1975-1981

Sr. Mary Frances Jordan

Dean: 1981-1982

Sr. Lenore Sullivan

Dean: 1982-1983

Sr. Johanna D’Agostino

Dean: 1983-1986

Sr. Cate McBurney

Dean: 1986-1989

Sr. Kathleen Heffron

Dean: 1989-1992

Mary Hardie

Dean: 1992-1997

Laurelle LaVert

Dean: 1997-2001

Sr. Mary DiGirolamo

Dean: 2001-2004

Angela Convertini

Dean: 2004-2017

Dean Emily VanBerkum

Emily VanBerkum

Dean: 2017-present

Faculty at Loretto College

Mother Estelle Nolan

1912-1914; 1919-1937

Mother Margarita O’Connor


Mother Lucilla Breen


Mother Athanasia Quinlivan


Mother Gertrude Gumpricht


Mother Dorothea Barry

Mother Dorothea Barry


St. Clare McEachen

Mother St. Clare McEachen


Mother St. Margaret Kelly


Mother Berchmans Doyle


Sr. St. Stanislaus McCardle, M.A.


Sr. St. Ivan McQuade, M.A.


Sr. Mary Aloysius Kerr, Ph.D.


Sr. St. Magdalen (Loretto) McIntyre, M.A.


Sr. Marcia Smyth, Ph.D.


Sr. Olga Warne, Ph.D.


Sr. Marion Norman, Ph.D.


Sr. St. Francis Nims, M.A.


Sr. Stella Marie (Esther Hanley), Ph.D.

1956-1957; 1959-1973;
St. Michael’s Library 1975-1994

Sr. Mary Madigan, Ph.D.

1972-1982; 1985-1988

Catherine Grisé

Catherine Grisé

Deans and Notables at St. Joseph’s College

Mother Irene Conroy, CSJ

Mother Irene Conroy, CSJ, 1865-1944

Elizabeth Conroy was born in Dundas, Ontario and received her early education from the Sisters of St. Joseph in Thorold. She became a resident student at St. Joseph’s Academy in Toronto where she completed high school and qualified to teach. Following her graduation, Elizabeth entered the novitiate in 1887 and received her religious name, Sister Irene in 1888. Following her novitiate Sister Irene taught in several Toronto Catholic elementary schools before being placed in charge of St. Joseph’s Academy in 1902. In 1905 Mother Irene was appointed Superior (and Administrator) of St. Michael’s Hospital.  There she won the admiration and respect of many outstanding members of the medical profession. During her term of office, she arranged for the hospital’s affiliation with the University of Toronto’s School of Medicine, with the establishment of clinics and courses and examinations by which the medical staff became lecturers and mentors for future doctors. St. Michael’s was well on the way to becoming one of the finest university teaching hospitals in the country.

Three years later, in 1908, Mother Irene was elected Superior General of the Congregation and entered on a whirlwind of construction and innovation which occupied her energies for the next six years. Through her efforts St. Joseph’s College for women was established in 1911 and affiliated with St. Michael’s College. Sisters were encouraged to obtain university degrees to improve their qualifications in the educational field. In 1914 her second three-year term ended and Sister Irene returned to teaching for a time and then served in hospital administration.

In 1926 Mother Irene was again elected to the General Council and during her term she was instrumental in negotiating the purchase of the Christie Mansion at 29 Queen’s Park Crescent for a residence and lecture rooms for St. Joseph’s College. She also supervised the building of new wings at St. Joseph’s Hospital and St. Michael’s Hospital as well as an addition to the Nurses Residence and a new Mercy Hospital for Incurables on Sackville Street of which she later became Superior in 1933. In 1938 she was again elected to General Council even as she celebrated her golden jubilee in community. She died in office on March 10, 1944.


Sr. Perpetua Whalen, M.A.

Dean: 1911-1914; 1916-1929

Sr. Austin McKay Warnock

Dean: 1914-1916

Sr. St. John O’Malley, M.A.

Dean: 1929-1933; 1941-1948

Sr. Mary Augusta Murphy, M.A.

Dean: 1933-1935

Sr. Bernard Tuffy, M.A.

Dean: 1935-1941

Sr. Blandina Hitchen, M.A.

Dean: 1948-1953

Sr. Geraldine Thompson, Ph.D.

Dean: 1953-1960

Sr. St. Stephen O’Connor

Dean: 1960-1968

Sr. Janet Fraser

Dean: 1968-1974

Sr. Rita Marie McLean

Dean: 1974-1979

Sr. Jean Gove

Dean: 1979-1985

Sr. Mary Anne McCarthy

Dean: 1985-1992

Sr. Noel O’Neill

Dean: 1992-1993

Sr. Anne Delaney

Dean: 1993-1998

Sr. Anne Marie Marrin

Dean 1998-2006

Administrators at St. Joseph’s College

Sr. Claudette Loftus

Administrator: 1979-1997

Sr. Conrad Lauber

Administrator: 1997-2006

Faculty at St. Joseph’s College

Sr. Perpetua Whalen, M.A.

History, English, German: 1911-1929

Sr. Austin McKay Warnock

Sr. Austin McKay Warnock

English: 1912-1916

Sr. St. John O'Malley

Sr. St. John O’Malley, M.A.

Latin: 1916-1968

Sr. Mary Augusta Murphy

Sr. Mary Augusta Murphy, M.A.

English: 1927-1929

Sr. Blandina Hitchen

Sr. Blandina Hitchen, M.A.

Latin: 1941-1974

Sr. Geraldine Thompson

Sr. Geraldine Thompson, Ph.D.

English: 1947-1976

Sr. St. Stephen O’Connor

Freshman Spanish: 1960-1974

Sr. Mary Agnes Murphy

Sr. Mary Agnes Murphy, M.A.

French: 1914-1940

Sr. St. Charles McSweeney

Sr. St. Charles McSweeney

Latin: 1917-1922

Sr. Dominica Blake

Sr. Dominica Blake, M.A.

English: 1926-1961

Sr. Marie Thérèse Larochelle

Sr. Marie Thérèse Larochelle, Ph.D.

French: 1929-1971

 Sr. Mary Bernita Young

Sr. Mary Bernita Young, M.A.

English: 1931-1949

Sr. St. Peter Gravel

Sr. St. Peter Gravel, M.A.

French: 1935-1949

Sr. Corinne Meraw

Sr. Corinne Meraw, Ph.D.


Sr. Eleanor Breen, Ph.D.

French: 1960-1974

Sr. Mary Arthur Knowlton

Sr. Mary Arthur Knowlton, Ph.D.

English: 1962-1977

Sr. Mechtilde O’Mara, Ph.D.

Classics: 1970-

Sr. Ellen Leonard, Ph.D.

Theology: 1974-

Sr. Bernard Tuffy, M.A.

French: 1935-1941